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Archive for January 2019

The Best Laid Schemes …..

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Alas, most of the plans detailed in my last post have been on hold. My wife unexpectedly suffered a cardiac arrest last July. (I’ve commented on Jenny’s blog about the superlative care she received at Dumfries hospital, courtesy of our wonderful National Health Service.) Now, after a considerable period of adjustment, I’m rather sadly looking at the various projects I mentioned before.

Virtual Reality – This is about the only project I’ve had any time for. Having acquired a suitably powerful computer with the intention of coupling it with an Oculus Rift headset, I then discovered the Oculus Go. This is a less powerful and less expensive headset but it’s a standalone device so no connection to a desktop is needed and at least in principle, you can wander around with it on anywhere, preferably in WiFi range – but keep the area clear of real obstacles! There are plenty of reviews and on the whole it gets a good press, particularly for gaming but VR has many other applications (eg see this review ) and for educational use the potential is enormous.

Oculus Go Headset  (Wikipedia)                                   Oculus Go Controller (Wikipedia)

I’ve only had the Oculus Go for a short time so I’m no expert on its use but probably a good guinea pig as my eyesight and hearing is not first class and audio or video imperfections become more apparent. Never having experienced VR before my first impression was very encouraging. There’s a huge difference between VR compared with ‘normal’ screen experiences – ie TV, cinema or even 3D cinema. VR immersion really does give a realistic impression of being right in there, surrounded on all sides, above and below and with the ability to change your view view in a natural way by turning your head in any direction. Sometimes the illusion was so persuasive I became confused about where I ‘really’ was. Not that I’ve had more general feelings of disorientation or sickness except perhaps slightly on the iconic rollercoaster rides. Evidently disorientation can be a problem for some and may be of particular concern for children.

VR can be more engaging than video or textbooks in many learning situations. Applications are not too hard to find or imagine. There are extensions of existing non-VR applications such as safe simulation of chemistry or physics experiments, learning how to fly an aeroplane or defuse a bomb and so on but also some quite new ideas. An ‘empathy machine’, for example, where the viewer embodies another person of a different race or gender – or disability, age, refugee status etc. with a view to encouraging better understanding and positive attitudes. At present, the potential of VR for education is mostly just that because the technology is new. It may be impressive in comparison with existing media but the performance gap between ‘real life’ and VR remains significant, particularly with the cheaper headsets such as the Oculus Go. Headsets are cumbersome to wear, image resolution can be inadequate and odd effects can spoil the illusion.

AltspaceVR 101 – digital society of AltspaceVR (via YouTube)

Also, with person-to-person communication, there’s a world of difference between meeting someone in real life and meeting as an avatar that can speak and move around but can only wriggle its head and wave its arms. At least that was my experience with the social platform AltspaceVR and it was certainly inferior to a video chat, via Skype for example, where facial expressions and true arm movements can contribute to the richness of conversation. It was also disconcerting when other avatars materialised right in front of me or even on me!

Writing – To my surprise my 3 SF short stories have been published as a book entitled ‘The Great Malvern Paradox’ – available from Amazon in paperback, Kindle or audiobook forms. I don’t think they’re selling like hot cakes but I am encouraged to write some more.


Written by Gordon Lockhart

January 21, 2019 at 9:32 pm

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